Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cheers! from Offenbach

A city is a city is a city. And many might seem to be without soul. Especially the financial capital of Germany, Frankfurt. Money masters don't have a reputation for enjoying life.

But not everyone in Germany is a money master, nor even in Frankfurt. Most of them are just like us. Getting along, making a living, trying to have a bit of fun on the way. So when you get right down on the street, or in the bars, or into a shop looking for directions, they're, well ... just like us, as I said.

Take the pub where I ate last night. Right beside my hotel in a suburb of Frankfurt which itself is ten minutes by train to the centre. A small place, obviously with a custom of locals, and where unpretentious food is served in decent quantity and well.

It took only took a few minutes before I looked at my colleague and said: "Got it!"


"The pub. It's 'Cheers!'."

And it was. The TV sitcom centred around a small cast of characters in a Boston pub could have been conceived in this little 'Bierstube'.

Character equivalents were all there, even if they didn't directly reflect the 'Cheers!' people. The barman who was probably the owner, might have been Sam Malone, now older, stooped and moustached. The cook who was maybe an older version of Rebecca, and finally had become Sam's wife and therefore a lot quieter.

The woman at the bar who was obviously a 'very' regular, might have been the waitress Carla on her night off and not able to leave the institution of which she had become a part. Clearly, she was holding her own in whatever conversation was happening between three or four of them.

Her forte was waving a fresh unlit cigarette to make her point, before she navigated it successfully to her lips. Kind of forties in style. Actually, she even looked it.

They were all friends as well as conversational debate adversaries, in the best sense.

The barman was involved too; in the tradition of his craft he was part of the several different conversations that were going on. And a little later he put out the leather dice cups. From then, along with the conversations there was a dice game on the go with participation from the different talking groups ... and from the barman himself, of course.

They were naturally talking in German. Which I don't understand. But you didn't need to know the language to get a handle from the animation. Some was probably politics -- George Bush was mentioned once, anyway, and there was a German general election in the offing -- and prices and gossip and football, and all the general mixture of stuff that is what we make of our ordinary lives.

I could have scripted it in English from the animation and probably not been too far wrong. And I should mention that it wasn't all a voyeur thing on our part. People had turned to wish us a good evening when we walked in, and an old guy who, we found later, had worked with the American army engaged us in comments several times.

And when I went to the bar and asked what was the German for cider, one of the customers immediately answered 'applewein', which made absolute sense. He subsequently had the ongoing interest to ask what we thought of the taste?

If you want to place him in the 'Cheers!' sense, he was Norm, the one who used to sit at the end of the bar with the psychiatrist Frazier and the mailman Ernie. He has lately advertised Smithwick's beer on TV here.

It was a most pleasant evening even if we were not part of the overall conversation -- and we could have been if we weren't so flaked out after three days of the Frankfurt Motor Show. The food was excellent, simply cooked and well presented. And the best of all came when the bill was called for. A brace of large beers, a coke and a cider, two main courses of more than adequate proportions, came to less than twenty-five euros.

There was no charge for the company or the entertainment it provided. Or for the 'God bless' called out when we left.

It all reminded me of the times growing up in and working in the family pub. Which is where my interest comes from, naturally.

There were those same cross-conversations. And darts games which also crossed the conversational boundaries. There were discussions about the boxers in the local amateur club, about so-and-so's racehorse. But never then, thankfully, about golf. That was a lounge topic.

There was a TV. But it was in the days long before wall-to-wall sports TV and satellite access, so most of the time it was in background or off. Just to date it, it came out of background when Bunny Carr's 'Jackpot' was on.

Now and again somebody would come in to collect a parcel left by the bus, sometimes a squawking one of day-old chicks. Hopefully before they were three days old, because by then they'd have stopped squawking and would be just starting to smell. But any of those people too would have caused pauses, and tangents in the conversational directions.

And when I come to think of it, that's why -- despite having in general terms a very poor disposition towards American half-hour sitcoms since 'I Love Lucy' ended -- I did and still will watch 'Cheers!'.

Even if its dialogue hadn't been as cleverly written as it was, it would still be true-to-life clever. And although it is set over three thousand miles away it doesn't matter much. Boston is, famously, in the next Irish parish to Westport.

Thing is, Offenbach outside Frankfurt could just as easily be in downtown Kilcullen, or Atlanticside Westport, yesterday and even today. But it certainly is 'Cheers!'

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